City dreads potential state cuts

Shelton is in a “troubling” scenario as possible budget cuts at the state level could result in the city seeing more than a $7-million decrease in state funding.

Under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget proposal, millions of dollars in state funds would be taken from towns and cities like Shelton and distributed to larger, more urban cities such as New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.

The sequence of when cities and municipalities have to propose their budgets is out of sync with when the state does its work, according to Shelton Superintendent of Public Schools Dr. Chris Clouet.

“It’s not a good system,” said Clouet. “It’s particularly troubling this year and because of the budget deficit at the state level. It puts the city of Shelton in a difficult situation, as it may force the city to wait until the state makes their decision on how they allocate their funds.”

Shelton’s Board of Education will meet tonight, March 7, at 7 p.m. in the board’s administrative offices at 382 Long Hill Avenue, second floor, to discuss the 2017 budget and the potential effects of the governor’s cuts.

Impacts of cut to Education Cost Sharing grant

Clouet said despite submitting a budget proposal that balances the needs of students and the concerns of taxpayers, there’s a chance the city’s board of education will have to go back to the drawing board because of several “moving pieces.”

Now we need to see exactly what the state legislature will propose in terms of the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding, special education funds, as well as this new idea of shifting up one-third of teacher pension liabilities from the state to the city. Those three things are big unknowns.”

Prior to this proposal the state paid for all teacher pensions. The sudden proposal to change those circumstances places more responsibility on individual cities.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said this would be an “extreme hardship” that would affect each city differently.

“If he says we have to participate in the funding of pensions, then we want a seat at the table,” said Anglace. “We want that to be considered a collective bargaining issue. Right now, it’s a state law and not a collective bargaining issue. Let us get to the table and let us work it out with our teachers. … We negotiate their other benefits, but what they’ve done is they’ve taken the pensions out of the local negotiations and like ‘big shots’ gave them the moon. Now they can’t pay for it. Shame on them.”

“I’d be glad to sit down with the governor and take away all of our mandates and let us form our own education policies here and let us handle the full costs and keep your $5 million,” said Anglace.

State Rep. Jason Perillo (R-113) said the governor’s plan derives from the difference in performance of urban and suburban schools.

“The urban schools are underperforming, that’s the primary reason, and so the governor believes that giving them more money will improve student achievement. Keep in mind, well over 50%, in some cases as high as 80%, of big city education is funded by the state of Connecticut, already. The governor is going to have to prove that throwing more money at bigger city education budgets will improve student achievement.”

Perillo said the governor’s plan to “throw more money at the issue” won’t work. The difference between the performance of suburban and urban schools begins at students’ homes, according to Perillo.

“Without a strong family support system, students are already starting at a disadvantage,” said Perillo. “You can’t build a stronger family support system by writing a bigger check.”

Anglace agreed.

“No one has been able to prove that throwing money at inner cities improves the quality of their education. It’s crap. We’re going to spend all types of money and not improve the quality of education. That’s the sad part,” said Anglace. “The issue is not in how much money you put into it, it’s parental guidance, or lack thereof. Many of these kids don’t have parents who are interested in helping them. That seems to be the unfortunate truth. We need to figure out how to reverse that and help these kids out that way.”

Shelton Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said cuts in the state funding could also create staffing concerns.

“If we don’t get pretty much everything we asked for, there’s going to be bodies going out the door,” said Holden.

Perillo said it’s still very early in the budget process, too early to calculate any downsizing in staff.

“We are a long way off,” said Perillo. “The budget is a marathon, not a sprint. The state budget will certainly not be finalized by the time Shelton’s is.”

As a result, Perillo said, the city could potentially be allocating money that it won’t have once the state completes its budget. Currently the legislature is holding hearings, meetings and workshops to finalize the state budget.

How will cities bridge gaps created by cuts?

Perillo said the governor’s cut to state funding will “undoubtedly” affect Shelton’s property tax.

Anglace agreed.

“The governor doesn’t care where the money comes from,” said Anglace “The only legitimate place to come up with those millions by the time he’s through is to tax it.”

“The city will be faced with the decision as to how to deal with the budget cut in years to come should they choose to ‘plug a hole’ or fill the gap created by the state-level cuts,” said Perillo. “If Shelton’s property taxes go up this year, it’s not because of decisions made in Shelton, it’s because of decisions made by the governor. He is essentially pulling the rug out from under us.”
Perillo said an increase in property tax would be a short-term fix to a long-term issue.

Clouet said the Board of Education is preparing different scenarios but it’s too early to determine how cuts will affect the school district.

“We’re happy to be working closely with the city on this and we’re hoping to get through this very stormy economic season together,” said Clouet.